Police reject latest sniper account

Investigators on Thursday labeled a witness’ description of a cream-colored van and AK-74 assault rifle from the scene of Monday night’s shooting “not credible.”

Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose told The Associated Press that the witness who described an AK-74 and cream-colored van intentionally misled police.

Authorities are investigating to determine whether to charge the “witness,” who was not identified.

The erroneous account was discovered by comparing it to other eyewitness accounts.

The report came the day a 13-year-old boy wounded in a Bowie, Md., shooting last week was upgraded from critical to serious condition.

Officer Sophia Grinnan, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Police, said officials still have solid evidence to investigate.

“We had witnesses and they have given us testimony and leads and we’re following those leads up,” Grinnan said. “The investigation has not died just because this witness’ credibility has been compromised.”

Grinnan said her department never confirmed the existence of partial license plate numbers retrieved at the scene of the Monday night shooting. As such, she could not comment on how the erroneous reports given to police would affect the effort, if it existed at all, to identify of the killer through license plate numbers.

Moose said the public has been getting “tidbits” of information and taking it as solid fact, thus getting “tunnel vision” and not paying attention to other possibilities. He said media interviews of witnesses create public confusion.

Witnesses said a man got out of a cream-colored van, fired an AK-74 assault rifle, got back in and sped away. The killer was able to slip through local, state and federal dragnets that went up only minutes after Linda Gail Franklin, 47, an FBI intelligence analyst from Arlington, was felled by the killer’s trademark single .223 caliber bullet.

Some of Monday night’s witnesses said the shooter was dark-skinned, others said he was white. Some people said they saw two men, some saw one.

Moose said the public should be considering all information and calling the tip-line even when a news report makes them think their tips may not be valuable.

During a Wednesday press conference, Capt. Nancy Demme of the Montgomery County Police Department said that at the scene of a shooting, witnesses should keep their safety in mind first. She said people in the Washington, D.C., area should have paper and a pen available at all times in the event of the shooting so that they can write their observations down immediately afterward.

She cautioned people however, to tell police specifically what they saw, so that their perceptions are not tainted by other witnesses’ perspectives.

Demme said it is important not to let media reports affect perceptions. Thus, if a shooter is seen escaping in a sedan, witnesses should report that to police as opposed to discounting it because of widely-publicized reports of white vans near shooting scenes.

According to law enforcement authorities, any information could be valuable in tracking the murderer who has thus far eluded police and terrorized a population.

The number for the tip-line run by the FBI is (888) 324-9800, Prince William County Crime Solvers is (703) 670-3700, Manassas City Crime Solvers is (703) 330-0330 and Spotsylvania County Crime Solvers is (540) 582-5822. To report suspicious white vans, dial #77, which will connect to a local state police barracks non-emergency line.

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